Ole Gunnar Solskjaer takes charge of Manchester United for the first time this weekend as their on-fire rivals Liverpool aim to become the Premier League’s Christmas number one.
Former United striker Solskjaer, named caretaker manager at Old Trafford this week following the sacking of Jose Mourinho, is gunning to make a statement on Saturday at Cardiff City, where he flopped as coach in 2014.
At the top of the table, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have a chance to open up a four-point lead over Manchester City at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Friday, with Pep Guardiola’s team not in action against Crystal Palace until the following day.
Third-placed Tottenham, five points behind second-placed City, face a tricky trip to Goodison Park to take on Everton while Chelsea host Leicester and Arsenal, smarting after Southampton ended their 22-game unbeaten run and League Cup defeat to bitter rivals Spurs midweek, welcome Burnley to the Emirates.
AFP Sports picks out some of the main talking points ahead of the weekend fixtures in the Premier League.
Can Solskjaer restore Man United magic?
Manchester United’s rotating cast of players have failed dismally to live up to the club’s tradition of swashbuckling football in a dire season that led to Mourinho’s dismissal.
All eyes will be on caretaker manager Solskjaer as he begins his attempt to turn around the club’s fortunes at Cardiff.
Among the issues facing the Norwegian are bringing Paul Pogba back into the fold, liberating stifled attacking players and tightening up a leaky defence.
Solskjaer, who managed Cardiff from January to September 2014, has a special place in the hearts of United fans and has talked about the “very talented squad”.
Disgruntled supporters will not be expecting miracles but they will want to see an immediate change in style.
Liverpool keep feet on the ground
Manchester City started the season as hot favourites to defend their Premier League crown but Liverpool have turned the campaign into a genuine title race.
If Jurgen Klopp’s unbeaten leaders beat Wolves on Friday it would be their seventh league win on the bounce and guarantee them to be top of the table on Christmas Day.
Each of the past four sides to be in front on December 25 have gone on to win the title, though Liverpool themselves were the last side to fail to do so, in 2013/14.
Midfielder James Milner said the players are keeping their feet on the ground despite their sparkling start to the season.
“A big strength of this group is how we’ve improved over the last few years but also how we stay in the present and focus on each game,” he said.
De Bruyne, Aguero boost Man City firepower
A single Premier League defeat, against Chelsea, hardly spelt disaster for Manchester City but it notably came with both Kevin De Bruyne or Sergio Aguero missing.
Both players started in the midweek League Cup win on penalties against Leicester, with De Bruyne scoring his first goal of an injury-blighted season.
For all their much-vaunted strength in depth, Guardiola needs De Bruyne’s creativity and Aguero’s goals as he remains in the hunt for a trophy clean sweep.
Will Pochettino’s head be turned by Man United?
Mauricio Pochettino is reportedly Manchester United’s first choice for their next permanent manager — potentially meaning months of anxiety ahead for Tottenham fans.
Spurs’ multi-pronged trophy assault risks being sidetracked by constant speculation linking their highly-rated manager to the United job and on Thursday he was stopped from answering questions on the issue at his press conference.
Former Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp is among those who believe he should stay put in north London, saying Spurs are a better team than United.
“Man United is a massive club but I think in his situation when he’s building such a good team at Tottenham — there’s a lot of work to be done at Man United to build a good team,” he told talkSPORT. “Where do you find the players? It’s getting more and more difficult.”
Fixtures (15:00 GMT unless stated)
Wolves v Liverpool (20:00)
Arsenal v Burnley (12:30), Bournemouth v Brighton, Chelsea v Leicester, Huddersfield v Southampton, Manchester City v Crystal Palace, Newcastle v Fulham, West Ham v Watford, Cardiff v Manchester United (17:30)
Everton v Tottenham (16:00)
© Agence France-Presse (Additional edits by Michael Corry)